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Armageddon Within Our Lifetime?

We live in strange times. 41% of Americans say that Jesus will definitely or probably return by 2050, and 38% believe that natural disasters are signs from God. For white evangelicals, those fractions are 58% and 59%, respectively.

What accounts for this fascination with the end times? Dr. Robert Price commented on one element of popular culture, the Left Behind novels that wallow in the horror of a post-rapture world. Price likens this as Christian porn. Fans of the series can read in those novels what they’d like to read in the newspaper. They’re eager for Armageddon, and they see themselves as the good guy in the book.

Crying wolf

A larger factor that fuels this anxiety is Christian personalities who point to every bit of bad news as evidence that things are going to hell and that Armageddon is around the corner. These guys never met a natural disaster they didn’t like. Jerry Falwell wondered “whether the crisis in the Middle East is actually a prelude to the end of the world.” Pat Robertson said that the 5.8 magnitude Virginia earthquake of 2011 was another sign. Oh, and security cameras, too. Glenn Beck said that the recent story of a Syrian rebel eating a human heart is a sign of the end times.

Jesus gave this advice about the end times:

When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. … Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places. (Luke 21:9–11)

The gospel of Mark adds that these signs are “the beginning of birth pains.”

Do you hear about wars and earthquakes in the news? the Pat Robertsons of the world will ask. Well there you go—what more evidence do you need? And if you say that there have always been wars and earthquakes, they quote 2 Peter 3:3, “In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.” John Hagee interpreted this immunity to the facts: “The very fact that you don’t believe [Jesus] is coming is proof positive he’s on the way!”

But let’s return to reason. For this prophecy to stand out, it can’t be referring simply to war, earthquake, famine, and pestilence. It’s about an increase of those things, and we’re not seeing that today.

War, earthquake, famine, and pestilence, oh my!

First, let’s put to rest worries about increasing pestilence. Science has made gains against disease that would have been inconceivable just a few centuries ago. Sewer and clean water systems, vaccines, and antibiotics have altered life dramatically in much of the world, no thanks to God. Smallpox, killer of half a billion people in the 20th century alone, is only a memory, and polio and guinea worm may soon be gone as well. While cancer and influenza still exist, we’ve made great progress against them. The trend is positive here.

Famines in India and China killed millions of people a century ago. Food distribution isn’t perfect today, but modern technology has increased crop yields so that widespread famine is almost impossible. (More on the relative value of magic vs. technology here.)

As for natural disasters like earthquakes, we can’t control them, but for many, we have advanced warning. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which caught the city off guard and killed perhaps 10,000 people, could not happen today. We also have warnings for tornadoes and tsunamis.

Famously wrong end-times prophet Hal Lindsey said, “To the skeptic who says that Christ is not coming soon, I would ask him to put the book of Revelation in one hand, and the daily newspaper in the other, and then sincerely ask God to show him where we are on His prophetic time-clock.”

If you want to keep yourself in a lather over how terrible things are, go to Rapture Report for the latest scary news. Or look at the statistics that argue that things are actually improving.

(What about war? I discuss Steven Pinker’s surprising conclusions about violence in Part 2.)

If you listen closely
you can hear the footstep of Messiah
shuffling through the clouds of heaven.
— John Hagee

Photo credit: Amazon

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    You know what might truly bring about the End Times? If some religious wacko like Sarah Palin got control of the Big Red Button and started hearing “voices from God” telling her that it was her duty to get the ball rolling.

    That’s why I figure that true evangelical Christianity should be an automatic disqualification for running for president. (Likewise for any otherwise sane presidential nominee who sees no problem with having such a lunatic in the #2 spot.)

    • JRCowles

      Sarah Palin with access to the launch codes … now there’s a scenario to keep you awake at night. She’s a living, flesh-and-blood embodiment of what I mean when I say that conservative fundamentalist evangelical Christians pose the greatest danger to the Nation.

      JC

  • King Dave @ Newsvine

    I think I can simplify, dumb people are more successful at breeding big numbers?

  • Mick

    John Hagee interpreted this immunity to the facts: “The very fact that you don’t believe [Jesus] is coming is proof positive he’s on the way!”

    That’s something the church has been teaching for 1700 years: “The Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible” (Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 5.4).

    That’s why Christianity will never die. The mugs in the pews lap this stuff up and no matter how nonsensical it is, they will never ever consider they have got it wrong.

    • MNb

      Well, then all christians should deconvert as soon as possible. There is no point in trying to avoid the unavoidable and what’s more – Jesus’ second (or third, whatever) coming is what they want so badly!
      It confirms my statement that God has become an atheist 200 years ago.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        As a tangent, I wonder why Satan would participate in this charade. He’s read Revelation and he knows how it all ends. Why put up with God’s little show? Is he a robot somehow, unable to pull himself out? Does he not have free will?

  • Greg G.

    The Late, Great Planet Earth turned me into a newt. Actually it was the biggest factor for me becoming a Christian in the mid 70′s. I got better… about two years later.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      If only all newts returned to human form so easily.

  • JRCowles

    It’s easy to laugh about these people. I do it myself quite frequently.

    However, we would all do well to remember that the gravest threat to the continued existence of the United States as a constitutional, latitudinarian republic where individual rights are respected — especially the right to be free to practice or not practice a religion — the gravest threat is not al-Qaeda or Iranian or Korean nuclear weapons, nor is the gravest threat even jihadist Islam.

    The gravest threat to our country is conservative evangelical fundamentalist Christianity. The Iranian bomb does not yet exist. Korean nukes are numbered in the single digits. Moreover, Iranian and Korean nukes are still over there.

    Conservative evangelical fundamentalist Christians, by contrast, number in the millions and are already here.

    JC

    • Norm Donnan

      Yep those nativity scenes and pictures of Jesus in public places are going to bring down the country like a plane into the world trade centre,run Forest run.

      • Kodie

        You’re just brainless.

        • Norm Donnan

          I didnt call you Penny because your a girl sweetie

      • JRCowles

        When Christians believe the US is a “Christian nation” and attempt to enforce religious observance — Christian religious observance — on others coercively … yes, this is directly contrary to the US Constitution. Can you spell “establishment clause”? I seriously doubt it.

        Conservative / fundamentalist evangelical Christians may dislocate their shoulders waving the Flag on 4 July. But in reality, they are hostile to the constitutional traditions of equality & tolerance that the Constitution is built on.

        Dangerous folks …

        JC

      • smrnda

        We’ve got politicians rejecting sound science because it contradicts a fundamentalist take on the Bible making public policy and sitting on science committees. Politicians who think telling people to pray for better times is effective economic policy. We have people who would be fine with shutting down public schools so that all kids can get an education which focuses on religious dogma rather than marketable skills.

        The US is turning into a shit-can nation because we’re refusing to use evidence and reason, and we’re using mythology instead.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Yeah, using the Constitution for toilet paper by ignoring what it says about religion’s role within society does kind of get people annoyed. But maybe that just doesn’t bother you.

        • Kodie

          Probably because he’s Australian.

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

      As the late great Bill Hicks often made clear, you don’t want people that desire the end of the world with their hands on nuclear weapons.

      • JRCowles

        Secretly, and sometimes overtly, what fundamentalist / evangelical Christians actually hope for is Armageddon, because it would mean that their eschaton has finally arrived and that they have therefore been vindicated.

        JC

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I see your point, but it is odd to imagine being eager for a situation in which you get to chill with Jesus but billions of people will be broasting in hell. ‘Cause I think it’s a package deal.

        • JRCowles

          But the people burning in hell are burning in hell because they deserve to do so, according to the fundamentalist / evangelical conception of Divine Justice. Again, eternal punishment for the finally impenitent is a form of vindication in this world-view.

        • ildi

          No, no, they’re burning in hell because they chose to do so. This makes baby Jesus cry, but that’s what free will is about, dontcha know.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So they want that hot poker up the bum? Oh, well, that’s all right then.

          Still, that’s a shame about baby Jesus crying.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      More liberal Christians who drop by this blog sometimes fuss that any focus on evangelicals doesn’t address their views. They seem to feel smug that my attack missed them. I wonder then why they don’t at least agree with me then if they don’t share those views conservative views.

      • MNb

        “They seem to feel smug that my attack missed them.”
        And rightly so. So when will you take them on?
        That’s entirely off-topic though.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Sift through the stuff I’ve got out there and give me an objective opinion. Yes, I do have quite a bit that attacks the literalist opinion only (maybe a bit more lately, with posts on the Garden of Eden and the Flood stories). But I do think that a decent fraction does attack all Christians.

          If you have any ideas for Christian points that need to be critiqued, I’m interested in suggestions. I’ve gotten this from lots of Christians.

  • Roger Peritone

    Hah. I like that Rapture page…they have whole sections of baloney on the side that at least some have already been refuted. For example: their 101 Evidences for a Young Earth? Refuted on Rational Wiki.

    Biblical foreknowledge? At least some of the claims are dealt with here.

    Messianic prophecies? Dealt with at least to an extent, here.

    Kind of a one-stop shop for picking up their arguments, isn’t it?

    Still, at least they’re trying…unlike those idiot presuppositionalists.

    • JRCowles

      When you call that stuff “baloney”, you insult baloney … 8-)

      JC

      • Agni Ashwin

        …as well as the city of Bologna.

  • Norm Donnan

    Check out the FB page Storm Cloud Brewing, a non Christian page telling you all the end is near

    • Kodie

      Good.

    • JRCowles

      Oh good grief! Christians have been saying “the end is near” for 2K years, and the Big Guy has yet to put in an appearance … or reappearance.

      JC

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Can’t find it. Give me a link if you don’t mind risking me mocking whatever this page is.

      • Norm Donnan

        sorry its Storm Clouds Gathering,feel free to mock

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So these are conspiracy theorists?

          But, hey, why should you or I believe a non-Christian take on the end times, amiright? What is your view about the end?

        • Norm Donnan

          Its all in place,but fear not,what doesnt make sense to you now will later.Just sit back and enjoy the ride,it doesnt matter what you or me make of it.Even when He does return life will go on and if your still around you will have all the evidence you need to convince even you,until then keep up the questioning your going to look like your right for a while until it all clicks for you.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So you’re admitting that God’s Fabulous Plan® doesn’t make sense? I wonder why he made hell-bound people like me when he knows where I’ll end up. Maybe he’s just a sadist.

        • JRCowles

          The sadist thing would be my guess, especially given the sanguinary antics of Ole Blood ‘n’ Guts in the Old Testament.

          JC

    • FullertonXJ

      All I could find was a page for a brewery

    • Norm Donnan

      Storm clouds gathering..sorry

  • MNb

    Oh, as an atheist and materialist and scientismist I firmly believe in Armageddon. It will happen after some 5 billion years from now.
    If we don’t screw up earlier of course. But that’s in our hands.

    • smrnda

      This reminds me of a joke. A kid is in class sleeping and the professor says in 5 billion years the sun will expand and destroy the earth.

      He leaps up and goes “In five MILLION YEARS the sun will destroy the earth?”

      The prof says “no, i said five BILLION YEARS.”

      The kid: “O, no worry then.” and he goes back to sleep. (got it from a Douglas Hofstadter essay, don’t know if it was original with him.)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    “Apocalypse Not” by John Michael Greer shows how Armageddon-ish prophecies have been around for 3500 years – they didn’t start with Christianity. In those 3500 years, they have a perfect track record – they’ve been wrong every time.

    My review is here, for those who are interested: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2012/06/apocalypse-not-2.html

  • Hilary

    I believe, with heartbreaking absolute faith, that we are heading to Armageddon, and it in fact has probably already started.

    Yeah, that would be global climate change. No need for Jesus, Adonai, or Zeus for that one.

  • Pofarmer

    Really odd thing is, Christians think people who DON’T beleive Jesus is coming back with an army of angels to take over the world are the crazy ones.

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